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Around Hockey East (November 3, 2016)

Gallery Photo: NCAA Hockey Tournament Photo Gallery: Union 5, Vermont 2
Kevin Sneddon’s Vermont Catamounts are off to a 4-1-1 start, despite having to battle some adversity in the preseason.
Matt Dewkett

In what will become a weekly feature for the rest of the season, Joshua Kummins and Jeff Cox answer three questions on the Hockey East landscape. This week’s questions revolve around what’s been seen a month into the college hockey season.

With complaints of penalties ruining the flow of college hockey games, a lot of observers have bemoaned the fact there haven’t been many good games early in the season. What is the best game you’ve seen so far this season?

Joshua Kummins: The consensus around college hockey is that great games have been fewer and farther between as all involved parties continue to adjust to the new standard of play rules, but UMass Lowell's season opener against Minnesota Duluth was a good one. The River Hawks got out to a 4-1 lead, but allowed two power-play goals and one at even strength to settle for a tie. There were 19 power plays in the game, but also many momentum swings, some great goaltending by Christoffer Hernberg in the third period to keep the game close, and even a disallowed goal in overtime that would have won the game for Lowell. The "feeling out" period was still there, but this was a game that had a little bit of everything and did not really feel like October.

Jeff Cox: Two games stand out for me. The first league game of the season between Boston College and Merrimack was an entertaining 2-2 tie with less penalties called than the majority of games I’ve seen. There was better flow to the game, especially the first 30 minutes. The Eagles jumped out to a 2-0 lead after two periods, but Merrimack stormed back with two power play tallies in the third period.

The first game of the Quinnipiac-Maine series was a thriller, but it was marred with far too many penalties. The Black Bears roared back from 2-0 and 3-1 deficit to force overtime and eventually pull off the upset, 4-3, over the third-ranked Bobcats. It was homecoming weekend in Orono and Alfond Arena was rocking like the old days.

What unheralded returning player has stepped up to fill an important role for his team in the first month of the season?

Jeff Cox: It’s tough to know if he can sustain this level of production, but UConn sophomore Karl El-Mir has already scored four goals after lighting the lamp just three times all of his rookie campaign.

The Montreal, Quebec native scored a goal in three straight games before being held off the score sheet in Friday’s series finale at Notre Dame. He had the game-winning goal in Thursday’s 4-2 upset win over the Irish.

There was significant concern among Huskies faithful heading into the season in regards to where secondary scoring would come from. El-Mir’s early season scoring touch has given Mike Cavanaugh’s team some added production behind the dynamic duo of fellow sophomores Max Letunov and Tage Thompson.

Joshua Kummins: I'm going with Boston College's J.D. Dudek here. It's no secret that the Eagles lost some important offensive talent from last year's team, but they have had plenty of players rise to the occasion and help fill those roles. Despite seven early departures to the pros, BC's top two forwards entering the season were set in stone as both Colin White and Ryan Fitzgerald returned. The major hole up front was on their wing, and Dudek quickly proved to be the perfect addition to the top line. With two players who likely have futures in the National Hockey League by his side, his job is simple. He won't need to be the top scorer, but showing a physical side and getting pucks to the aforementioned White and Fitzgerald will help the keep the Eagles offense growing strong and increase his point total.

What Hockey East team has been the most pleasant surprise through one month of the college hockey season?

Joshua Kummins: It did not look like things would be so easy for Vermont after three of its captains were suspended following a preseason hazing scandal, but the Catamounts now have their best offensive players back and boast a 4-1-1 record as Hockey East play begins in earnest. It was not the easiest of starts for UVM either as its wins came at Clarkson, Omaha and Northeastern, and against a nationally-ranked Michigan team at home.

When the aforementioned trio returned for Sunday's Hockey East opener, that meant three players had to sit. The team's strong play made the decisions tough, but head coach Kevin Sneddon was proud of his team's response and its ability to remain together.

"What's great about this team is they're all for one, one for all, tough decisions by the coaching staff or not," Sneddon said following the Catamounts' 3-2 win at Northeastern. "I'm just really proud of our guys because when you have a situation like that where there's a little bit of a crisis, it takes strong people to get through it. I think our captains have been the faces of the incident when it was really a team thing, so for those guys I really proud they got through it and the team stayed together as a tight unit."

Jeff Cox: Early season home losses out of conference to Bentley and Colorado College gave plenty of credence to another sub-par season in Durham, but the first weekend of league action has allowed for optimism to set in.

The Wildcats went on the road and beat UMass, 4-1, then returned to the Whittemore Center to defeat Merrimack, 6-2. Saturday’s win was certainly a big relief, seeing as UNH hadn’t won a game in Durham in almost a year, a 6-3 win over Dartmouth last December.

“We’re happy with two games on the weekend in Hockey East so we’re going to enjoy it,” said Dick Umile.